FPI leader Rizieq Shihab: Identity politics and new ‘ammunition’ for Prabowo

CNN Indonesia – October 26, 2018
Prabowo Subianto pictured in Mecca - June 2018 (Istimewa)
Prabowo Subianto pictured in Mecca - June 2018 (Istimewa)

Jakarta – Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) chairperson and presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto has openly expressed his wish that Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) “Great Leader” Rizieq Shihab return to Indonesia before the 2019 presidential election (Pilpres).

If he is unable to return before voting day, Prabowo claims that he will go to Saudi Arabia and pick up Shihab himself.

Prabowo is the number 02 presidential candidate and has chosen former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno as his vice presidential running mate. The Prabowo-Sandiaga ticket is backed by Gerindra, the Democrat Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN), the Islamic based Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) and Tommy Suharto’s Working Party (Partai Berkarya).

“If possible [Shihab] will have returned before I’m elected. If not, they I will go and pick him up myself”, said Prabowo on the evening of Monday October 22.

Prabowo and Shihab have a close relationship. Their “cooperation” goes back to the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial elections when they succeeded in bringing down incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and ensuring victory for the Prabowo backed ticket of Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno.

On April 19 Prabowo and Rizieq appeared together at the Istiqlal Mosque in Central Jakarta following the quick count results showing a victory for Baswedan-Sandiaga. Prabowo joined with the congregation to offer a prayer to God, which was led by Shihab.

They were seen together at an event held at the At-Tin Mosque titled Prayers for the Nation which was held in the context of commemorating Supersemar [the alleged order transferring power from Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno to General Suharto in 1966].

Their “intimacy” however was abruptly shattered when in May 2017 the Metro Jaya police declared Shihab a suspect in a pornography case. Not long after this Shihab fled to Saudi Arabia.

Shihab has remained in Mecca for more than a year. Nevertheless, Prabowo managed to meet with him in Mecca after going on a pilgrimage in early June this year. Prabowo met with Shihab along with PAN Honorary Board chairperson Amien Rais and Alumni 212 [the group behind the anti-Ahok protest in 2017] figure Ansufri Idrus Sambo.

Prabowo’s plan to bring Shihab back from Saudi Arabia cannot be separated from his political interests in the 2019 presidential elections. Moreover Prabowo conveyed this wish in front of gathered habib or habaib [ethnic Arabs such as Shihab who claim ancestry of the Prophet Muhammad] and ulama [Islamic leaders] affiliated with the Islamic Defenders Front, the organisation led by Shihab.

In addition to this, at the Ijtimak Ulama I and II meetings of Islamic scholars – which can be said to formalised Shihab as their leading figure – Prabowo received their support to step forwards as a candidates in the 2019 presidential elections.

Although Prabowo did not fulfill the wishes of the Ijtimak Ulama I meeting by selecting an ulama as his vice presidential running mate, at the Ijtimak Ulama II he still received their official support through an integrity pact.

Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta State Islamic University (UIN) political observer Ahmad Bakir Ihsan says that as a presidential candidate, Prabowo will take whatever measures necessary to jack up his vote in the five-yearly “festival of democracy”.

“It can be read with the naked eye, that there are political interests, which of course he has calculated could be of benefit to the group”, Ihsan told CNN Indonesia on Wednesday October 24.

Ihsan suspects that Prabowo will look to the success of the Baswedan-Sandiaga ticket in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial elections, where they won with the support from Islamic groups, including the FPI which is commanded by Shihab.

According to Ihsan however, Shihab’s return to Indonesia before the presidential elections will not automatically jack up Prabowo’s vote. But at least, Shihab could become “new ammunition” for Prabowo during the mass campaign.

“Perhaps for Prabowo, (Rizieq Shihab) can augment his ammunition and strengthen him in the campaign. Perhaps there is such a consideration. At the very least it will be [new] ammunition, a stimulus”, he said.

Ihsan said that the presences or support of national or religious figures for presidential and vice presidential candidates does not simply translate into votes. According to Ihsan the support of such figures may well provide motivational benefits for the five yearly political contestants.

“For example it can become a motivation in and of itself. Although we’re not talking here about how big an influence it will be for Prabowo’s electability”, he said.

Al-Azhar Indonesia University political observer Ujang Komarudin meanwhile says that Shihab as figure could become a unifying force for the “alumni” groups behind the anti-Ahok groups which support Prabowo. Shihab’s central position in this is what makes Prabowo want to get him back from Saudi Arabia.

“The end result of his repatriation is of course the hope that he can add to the Prabowo-Sandi vote”, Komarudin told CNN Indonesia.

Komarudin continued, “Rizieq’s additional value is he is seen as being able to unite the 212 movement (the groups behind the anti-Ahok actions). Rizieq, who is very strongly opposed to the government, will boost Prabowo’s spirit of struggle in the Pilpres”.

Despite this, Komarudin said that the government will not remain silent if Shihab does in fact return home to Indonesia. This is because Shihab’s return will of course not be beneficial to the government, in this case President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as the incumbent in the 2019 election.

“Except if Prabowo and Rizieq make a compromise with the government to guarantee Rizieq’s safety and that Rizieq won’t be harassed [with pending legal cases against him]”, he said.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was Rizieq Shihab, ‘Amunisi’ Prabowo dan Politik Identitas.]

Source: https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20181026071107-32-341547/rizieq-shihab-amunisi-prabowo-dan-politik-identitas